New stage in life: Ellis retires, open house Sept. 8
FAIRMONT — Ten days ago, Lt. Del Ellis turned in his badge, closing his 35-year career in law enforcement, the last 24 years with the Fairmont Police Department.
“I wasn’t made for anything else. God put me here, to be a cop here, and it worked out just spectacularly,” Ellis said. “I have to say it was not work. The people of Fairmont are just wonderful. Even when it was fashionable to attack or slur law enforcement, there was so much support from the genuinely wonderful people here.”
His deep gratitude for the community prompted him to schedule an open house, not to celebrate his retirement, but to say thank you to his fellow officers, his church family and local residents from 2-4 p.m. Sept. 8 in the basement at St. Paul Lutheran Church at 211 Budd St.
The soft-spoken Ellis admits to being incredibly shy, a trait he continuously fights to overcome. He let his work speak for him, following his father’s mantra: Well done beats well said every time.
“Failures? Oh my goodness, I failed at something every day, but that’s what makes us better,” Ellis said. “I know I did my best. There wasn’t a day that I went to work that I cheated the citizens of Fairmont. I lived being the best I could be for the city of Fairmont.”
He feels this attribute echoes throughout the Fairmont Police Department members, past and present.
“I’m incredibly proud of the men and women that I have served with. I would stand shoulder to shoulder with them any time, any place,” Ellis said. “I’m just so proud to know them. Every officer that came before me was an incredible gift. They set a path, and I hoped I walked it well. I know that those who are continuing will walk that path well too. This isn’t an individual profession.”
Ellis’ religious faith plays a key role in his life and came to the forefront on more than one occasion in his law enforcement career. Ellis was severely injured in 2002 while trying to make an arrest, and his prognosis had doctors telling him he should rethink his career path.
“I was duty sergeant at the time. I was off for a year,” he said.
Around that time, then-police officer Brad Gerhardt made a successful bid for sheriff, leaving open the lieutenant position.
“I would have never tested for lieutenant, an administrative position, not what I love doing,” Ellis said. “It was either that or quit, but I’m a man of faith. God had it all planned out, and I found out I’m good at it. Plus I was able to work another 16 years.”
His church family at St. Paul Lutheran championed his family during this time, lending support to him, his wife, Phyllis, and sons, Jonathon and Jacob.
“Without that support, I’d have quit (the force) in 2002. I can say that with no hesitation,” Ellis said. “Throughout my career, unequivocally, without my church family and my family, I wouldn’t have made it.”
It was a conversation after Bible study with Tony Stadler, then owner of Fairmont Awards, that led the Ellises to purchase the business in 2003.
“We bought Fairmont Awards thinking that would be what I would have to do instead of wrestling with bad guys. It was just a great blessing for our family,” he said.
On Oct. 26, 2010, fellow officer Chad Sanow was ambushed when he was first to arrive at a house fire. Sanow’s vest saved his life, and he eventually returned to duty, but the incident shook his fellow officers.
“That night, standing in the squad room, Pastor (Thomas) Fast from St. Paul Lutheran came and prayed with us, and he prayed for us,” Ellis said, his voice catching with emotion from the memories. “It was rough, but that galvanized us to just be that much stronger. That didn’t just affect Chad. That had reciprocal effects throughout our public safety community. From that day, every Sunday in my church, there’s a prayer for law enforcement, firefighters and EMTs. That’s not by my request, but it’s a very big deal.”
Ellis embraces his retirement, enjoying his family. Although they recently sold Fairmont Awards, the Ellises are not ones to sit around. Phyllis maintains a part-time job at the Fareway bakery. The couple plans to spend winters in Arizona.
“I love Minnesota, but the beautiful things, the changing of the seasons, they hurt,” Ellis said. I have different levels of my spine that have been replaced, and the winters hurt.”
Their oldest son, Jonathon, is carrying on the family tradition as a police officer in Marshall. Jacob, an electrical engineer, will be commissioned an officer in the Air Force on Sept. 18.
“I’m biased, obviously, but I couldn’t be more proud of my family. My wife and my two sons, God blessed me big time with them,” Ellis said.
“I thank God. I thank my family, I thank the community of Fairmont. I’ve had, for the last 24 years, four months and seven days, the best ride ever.”